With the acquisition of former, now-current Flyer, James van Riemsdyk, the Philadelphia Flyers have greatly improved their top six. In turn, this has their bottom six looking much more powerful than it was last season. Although, that’s not really saying a whole lot, is it? So since it appears the Flyers won’t be making too many more moves before the start of the 2018-2019 NHL season, let’s take a look at what could be the team’s opening night roster in Las Vegas.
Line 1: Claude Giroux — Sean Couturier — Travis Konecny
We saw this at times last season and when it was on, the line was just about unstoppable. Unless Dave Hakstol tries to go back to Voracek on the top line as he did opening night last year, this is how I’d imagine the top line looking. We saw Couturier break out in a big way last season, a full season of top line minutes with two fantastic linemates could see similar results for Konecny.
Line 2: JVR — Nolan Patrick — Jakub Voracek
As crazy as it sounds, this line could be the most fun to watch if it indeed happens. Considering how many defensive zone starts the first line saw last season, the second line should be able to be sheltered a good bit, which could produce huge results. JVR scored 36 goals last season averaging just under 15 minutes of ice time, Patrick began to breakout in a big way as the season was coming to a close, and Voracek is coming off an 85 point season. They might be a problem in their own zone, but this is a line that could and should torture NHL defenses this season.
Line 3: Oskar Lindblom — Mikhail Vorobyev — Wayne Simmonds
This line shall be henceforth known as...wait for it...the #ThiccLine
In all seriousness though, this line should be a very good third line that can handle tough defensive minutes, drive play, and chip in solid point totals. Oskar Lindblom struggled in the playoff series vs. Pittsburgh, but in his 28 regular season games he was consistently driving play and giving fans plenty of hope for his future. Misha Vorobyev had a solid first season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year, and could very well earn a roster spot with a solid training camp and preseason. Wayne Simmonds as your third line RW? Pretty solid even if he is beginning to regress. This line should absolutely wear down opponents, which in turn would help the first and second lines even more.
Line 4: Michael Raffl — Scott Laughton — Jordan Weal
One of the nicest surprises early on last year was the emergence of the “Honey Bees” line with Raffl, Laughton, and Taylor Leier. Although I do think Leier could very well work into this lineup, Weal should probably go in before him. This line is a good mix of speed, skill, and grit which is exactly what you’d want in a fourth line. Raffl has been one of the team’s best play-driving forwards for years, and Laughton appears to have emerged as the ideal fourth line center who if needed, could play 3C. Although Jordan Weal struggled at times last season, he should be a solid fourth line winger who can provide aggressive forecheck, and win some puck battles.
1st Pair: Ivan Provorov — Shayne Gostisbehere
From the moment these two played their first game together last season, it was clear they were made for each other. The two posted fantastic underlying numbers, along with having career seasons offensively. If this isn’t the first defense pair to open the season I’d be very shocked.
2nd Pair: Travis Sanheim — Andrew MacDonald
While A-Mac still had a poor season by almost all underlying numbers, many of us - including myself - were okay with him for the most part. He didn’t make as many glaring blunders, and he even posted solid metrics in the beginning part of the season before sitting out due to a lower body injury after blocking a shot vs. Edmonton. No matter who he was paired with, MacDonald appeared to be dragging his partner down, that is until he was paired with Travis Sanheim late in the season.
In just over 200 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time, MacDonald posted a 52.51 CF% with Sanheim, compared to his 43.47% without him. Sanheim elevated Mac’s play late in the season to the best metrics we’ve seen him post. Whether that continues into this season is an obvious question mark, but I think it makes the most sense for the Flyers at this time. We know A-Mac is going to play, so why not play him with the guy who made him pretty solid towards the end of last year?
3rd Pair: Radko Gudas — Robert Hagg
Let me be clear, I completely understand the drawbacks with having these two on the same defense pair. Neither one of them are exactly proficient at breaking the puck up the ice, and they’re not going to be contributing a whole lot offensively besides point shots (most likely unscreened). What this pairing should be able to do however, is provide very good defensive zone coverage, and wear down the opposition. These two are going to be physical in their own zone, and hopefully at the very least Hagg can turn into a decent puck mover.
Sure, Hagg could be moved up with Sanheim, but then you have a MacDonald/Gudas pair which won’t be able to move the puck up either. Gudas and Sanheim could very well return, but then we see Hagg with MacDonald, a pairing that struggled mightily last season. My rationale with this pairing is; even though they may not be able to move the puck up, they’ll at least probably produce solid goal based numbers, and they’ll put a bit of fear into opposing teams.
Goalies: 1A — Brian Elliott, 1B — Michal Neuvirth
Barring any wild moves by Ron Hextall, we will see the same goalie tandem as last season. The success of the team could very well depend on these guys being able to stay healthy and each play around 40 games. Elliott received the Steve Mason treatment last season getting run into the ground by his coach, which was proven yet again to be a less than ideal coaching strategy. Neuvirth just simply couldn’t stay healthy and even when he was, his play was mediocre. If the Flyers can somehow get healthy seasons from both netminders, they should have a much better year. If Elliott and Neuvirth can both hang around a .910-.920 save percentage range, the Flyers should be in a really good position here.
Scratches: Dale Weise, Jori Lehtera, Christian Folin
I’ll admit, it’s very optimistic to think that Lehtera will actually be scratched to open the season. Hakstol showed repeatedly last year that he trusted Lehtera, so he could very well slide into Jordan Weal’s spot. As long as he doesn’t go completely insane and make him the 3C over a guy like Laughton, I think we’ll be fine. Lehtera was solid at the end of last year, and if he can keep that up, I have no problem with him on the 4th line.
Weise will most likely sit in the press box for the majority of next season, and as for Folin? Who knows. It will be interesting to see how much the coach likes him when training camp starts, and if he turns into another Brandon Manning.